If you had to restrict yourself to one word to describe Neil Spalding’s epic MotoGP opus, that word could be “dense.” The level of technological detail is over the top, charting all the changes of every points-scoring motorcycle since the prototype four-strokes first appeared in 2002. If you ever wanted to be a fly on the partition inside MotoGP, this is about as close as you’ll get, as Neil’s been an insider in top-level racing since well before MotoGP began.

Before that, he and Alan Cathcart persuaded the World Superbike people to run the European Supermono series in the early ’90s, where they campaigned a Ducati Supermono or two (get a sample of Neil’s excellent writing style here) in an effort to carry on the finest Cook Neilson Racer Road tradition that inspired him. Before that, Neil even ran a Yamaha SRX-6. After that, he ran a British Supersport team and now supports himself manufacturing Sigma racing clutches. Basically the man’s spent his entire life involved in motorcycle racing.

Over that time, he established enough bona fides that all the teams let him loose with his camera and notebook, and the book provides more detail on the changes each bike’s gone through since inception than most of us can process; the mechanical detail borders on obsessive-compulsive. At the same time, the humans involved play a huge role, and riders and other big players also come in for a fair bit of analyzing as well.

Sorry my photo of a photo isn’t nearly as good as the 650 in the book, mostly shot by Neil.

Rather than packing all the factory teams into a year-by-year breakdown like the also excellent Motocourse, Spalding’s chosen to give each manufacturer its own chapter in which he charts the changes down from the 2002 beginning. Riders, rules, and tires change: Through it all the manufacturers do their best to keep up, redesign to suit, cope, and carry on. The third edition of the book adds 16 additional pages that takes us right up through 2018.

Meanwhile in the Yamaha garage…

Weren’t we just discussing contra-rotating cranks the other day? There’s a chapter later that goes more in-depth all about crankshafts.

But wait, that’s not all. In addition to chapters on each manufacturer’s effort, there are also chapters on engines, electronics, gearboxes – including peering inside the latest in seamless gearbox technology – suspension, electronics… and all the fundamental two-wheel physics that tie all of the pieces together. That section begins:

In top-level racing it is relatively easy to get within two seconds a lap of the top teams, but the level of understanding required to get that last little bit off the lap time is very high indeed.

Then Neil proceeds to break those fundamentals right down, logically and systematically.

Table o’ Contents

Given Spalding’s hands-on racing background, none of this is ivory-tower theoretical stuff. Okay, some of it is, but most of it is boots-on-ground practical information about how motorcycles work and how the world’s best racing minds work through problems. Anybody who’s contemplating going racing would do well to read the book from front to back before setting the first tire on track. That, or you’re just a fan of bike racing and can’t get enough.

Okay, some of it is a bit academic.

Prepare to take some time, though. At 320 thick glossy pages dense-packed with information, you’re not going to consume this one in a couple of nights. In my case, probably not in a couple of years – but what a great reference for people in my line of work to keep on the shelf.

There’s even some excellent racing advice that just as easily applies to life, spun off of former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld’s infamous quote regarding “unknown unknowns”:

“… you need a little humility, you need to be able to stand back and acknowledge that you might have underestimated the opposition, you might have made the wrong assumptions, or even that you were just plain wrong. And then do something about it.

“Motorcycle racing is a game where many do not understand their ‘unknown unknowns’… you have to keep reviewing what you know and asking yourself if you have understood everything; you have to keep looking at your opposition and trying to understand the logic of everything they do. Self-doubt is a powerful tool for self improvement.”

In short, this is the best, most all-encompassing work about motorcycle racing anybody’s ever written that I’ve seen. Here’s hoping there’s a fourth edition one of these days. If not, this one’s more than an honest life’s work.

The bad news is it’s only available from Neil’s own publishing company in the UK, and the cost is £39.95 plus shipping. Worth every shilling.

Phoebus Apollo Publishing Ltd